The Eighth Doctor: The Time War Series 4 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 6 January 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Time War - Series 4 (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: John Dorney, Lisa McMullin, Matt Fitton

 

Director: Helen Goldwyn

 

Featuring: Paul McGann, Rakhee Thakrar, Terry Malloy, Adele Anderson, Isla Blair, and Nicholas Briggs

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: September 2020

Running Time: 5 hours

In the fourth volume of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures hovering around the edge of the Time War, he ends up in an alternate universe, deals with multiple versions of Davros, has a total loss of memory of who the Daleks are, before getting caught up in the midst of a Dalek Civil War.  It is, in short, another winner of a boxset from Big Finish, who have been really nailing the time War saga throughout their various sets and series.  Ahead will likely be SPOILERS, but if you are wondering whether this instalment is worth your time if you have enjoyed the Time War series thus far, this is on par if not better than many of the instalments.  

****POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD****

The set begins with Palindrome, Part 1 Davros living peacefully, married to a Thal, and working on his scientific endeavours, such as an interdimensional portal that can maybe let folks travel between other universes. But his happy little world is quickly disrupted when Daleks attack.  He and his wife are killed...but he awakes anyhow, but it is a day earlier than it was. And he gets killed one way or another each day, only to awake another day earlier.  The Doctor and Bliss are there, and they try their best to help this version of Davros, but that is difficult when they are travelling through time in opposite directions.  And when Davros meets, well, Davros (a version who seems far closer to what we all know) he is convinced that it may be the Doctor and Bliss who are in the wrong.  

Palindrome, Part 2 shows what happens when Davros is merged with all the alternate universe variations of himself, as planned out by the Dalek Time Strategist, and he begins moving forward in time again.  The Time Strategist is plotting to restore the Daleks, who were nearly beaten in “our” universe...and his plan is to use this dimensional portal to merge all Daleks from every universe to supply Daleks with an endless supply of Daleks.  Blow up one Dalek and a new one will pop in its place.  Obviously not an ideal situation.  

Beyond all that plot, that is honestly difficult to summarize with its wonky time mechanics, the heart of this episode is Terry Malloy’s latest performance as Davros. He starts off playing a perfectly innocent Davros from another universe, one that never grew up in an endless war, that never grew to despise Thals, one that was never injured and required the use of a travel machine, that never had hate that grew so deep, and certainly never had a need to create Daleks.  This Davros is just a nice guy, married and happily working on his own, more peaceful scientific endeavours.  But after he is merged with Davros from various alternate timelines, he struggles to maintain his peaceful nature.  He wants the Daleks to not hate indiscriminately...but he is slowly losing his own sense of self. His merger leaves him just as disfigured and in need of a chair as the Davros we all know, and while he tries to remember who he was, his hate for Thals starts to shine through.  By the end, he is utterly lost, ordering the death of his own alternate self and wife (again timey-wimey business is about here). Malloy plays it perfectly, from his innocent version, through his struggles losing his sense of self, until he is finally just the evil Davros we have always known.

After such a big epic opening, the set could lose some lustre going forward.  How do you maintain that level?  Luckily while the third story is certainly smaller and scale and intensity, it is still quite good, and leads directly into the big conclusion. In Dreadshade the Doctor and Bliss return to their own universe, but their memories are faulty.  They don’t remember who each other are.  They can remember their names and whether they are human or Time Lord...they have some basics, but there are huge swaths of their memory that are missing.  Unfortunately, this is the case for almost everyone they meet.  

Before the mass memory loss, the Twelve was placed inside a Time Lord weapon vault and is in stasis.  In there with her was a Dreadshade, a creature that can be trained to fear a specific thing and then when it is confronted with enough of that very thing will wipe it all out.  It was trained for Daleks, but when the Daleks were wiped out and forgotten, the Dreadshade forgot what it was afraid of...and the Twelve has trained it to fear Time Lords. While the Doctor and Time Lords slowly figure this out, they are also having the sense that the Time War has finally ended, whatever their enemy is...is finally gone. Then the Doctor and Bliss remember the warning they were coming with.  The Daleks aren’t just coming back.  They are coming back with a vengeance.  

Everything closes up Restoration of the Daleks, as the Time Strategist schemes to use Davros to restore the Daleks and then eliminate him, restoring the Emperor as well.  It basically leads to a sped-up version of Dalek history.  Davros helps create them, some turn on him over his purity, the Emperor is created and the Daleks follow his word, but then Davros convinces some Daleks to follow him instead, it leads into civil war...it isn’t what the Strategist hoped for.  The Doctor and gang are able to destroy the Dimensional Portal and stop the Strategist’s endless Dalek scheme. The Daleks lock up Davros on the order of the Emperor, who believes there is still some use to be had from Davros.  This pleases the maniacal Davros.  

While the Eighth Doctor is not nearly as front and centre during this set, the set does end with a cliffhanger that is very dear to that Doctor...from out of the multiverse came a stasis pod...and within that pod: his great-grandson Alex.  For those struggling to remember in the long past continuity of the Eighth Doctor’s audio run, Alex was Susan’s son introduced during the Lucie Miller days, back in 2009.  He first appeared in a one-off adventure in-between Eighth Doctor seasons, then played a pivotal role in the final season with Lucie Miller, being killed along with many of the Doctor’s friends.  There has been a ton of material both following directly on from those losses, and the Doctor’s Time War stories are meant to be much further on in his history than any of those, but needless to say, this memory being brought back to life should bring up some very personal feelings for the Doctor going forward.  

Time War 4 is great.  Maybe the best entry for the series yet. Terry Malloy is such a key part of this boxset that it might as well have been called Davros: Time War as opposed to Eighth Doctor: Time War.  If I had any complaint, it is an echo from a previous set: Bliss does not feel like a fully realized character.  She just feels like “Generic Companion #342.”  She is well performed but has been given no dimension by the writing, no clear characteristics that make her feel unique.  She is just too blank.  Four sets in?  That is a shame.  Beyond that?  This is a hell of a set.



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Gallifrey: Time War 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 17 March 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Gallifrey: Time War 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Starring Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson, and Seán Carlsen

Written By David Llewellyn, Lou Morgan, Helen Goldwyn

Directed By Scott Handcock
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery Nicholas Briggs
 
Released by Big Finish - February 2020

When we last left off on Gallifrey: Time War, Romana and Narvin were banished by the Time Lords and sent packing into the vortex in an old TARDIS (Romana was sentenced to death, but someone didn’t want her becoming a martyr), and despite their predicament, Romana decided the best course of action was to find their lost friend Leela. Their first stop (Hostiles) is a wreckage of a ship, upon which they find a Time Lord and an abominable being with time disruption powers that will kill them all to keep that one Time Lord alive and with him.  It’s a decent enough opener, as it has a good monster and some good Time War business.  

From there the duo end up on a rural planet, one in which the Time War has also begun to take effect as they deal with time folding in on itself.  If I am honest, this one is pretty forgettable. As I sat down to write this review it took me a few minutes to even remember what the details of this one’s plot were. The synopsis I found of Nevernor did not even remotely help me.  Finally...something of this story came back, but it just isn’t that great. It’s not a horrendous listen, because if nothing else Big Finish have tremendous production values...but I can’t sit here and pretend that they are infallible, and that they don’t occasionally have stories that can bore and confuse me, and then have the entire memory of the tale just float out of my brain.  

The big return of Leela happens in the third episode, Mother Tongue, in which she gets the full focus.  She has found herself jumping back and forth through time on a planet that is utterly peaceful with mysterious plants that take root around the whole world and somehow protect them from the outside universe.  As she bounces from the past to the future, she finds he has a son, and sees the different paths the world could take. It’s a solid premise and it is executed decently, even if I occasionally wasn’t able to keep up with where Leela was.  I also found another actress had a voice similar enough to Louise Jameson that it threw me off once or twice.  

The set concludes with Unity as Narvin and Romana finally meet up with Leela, find her living as a protector of a family on the planet Unity, but a guy trying to make a buck steals their TARDIS and lures the Daleks there to buy it (which as you already guessed doesn’t really pan out for him).  It all comes to a head with Romana deciding to sacrifice herself via the Chameleon Arch, become human and forget the dangerous knowledge she has to keep the planet hopefully safe from the Time Lords and the Daleks.  

But she also doesn’t do that. She decides it is cheating, and gives herself up to the Daleks believing she can maybe outwit them?  But while Narvin knows she changed her plans, they seem to feel it is best that Leela doesn’t know. To be honest, right now I am trying to figure out why Leela is so important to their plans.  Not that she isn't a fun character, but they seem to act like Leela MUST be saved and taken back to Gallifrey or help in the Time War cause or something...but she is just this Savage girl who could maybe be good on the front lines or something.  The whole ending just feels like it is concocted for a dramatic cliffhanger (the Daleks seemingly about to exterminate Romana), but doesn’t really make too much sense big picture to me.  

This set has decent episodes and is, as always, wonderfully produced, but I did feel it was missing something.  What I enjoyed about the Gallifrey series was the machinations on, well, Gallifrey. This set doesn’t have a single moment on the Time Lord’s home planet.  It doesn’t really continue the descent into madness and ramping up the Time War business, and how the Time Lords truly lost their way. Instead this just feels like an Eighth Doctor: Time War set.  Two characters bouncing around in an old TARDIS running into monsters and experiencing the effects the Time War is having on the universe. I like the Eighth Doctor sets, but this feels like they lost the identity that made the Gallifrey sets unique.  They were about the political intrigue that led to Gallifrey’s downfall. This is just adventures. It is worth a listen for fans, it’s just missing that key element.   





The Eighth Doctor: The Time War Series 2Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 21 July 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Time War - Series 2 (Credit: Big Finish)
 
 Director: Ken Bentley
 


Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
Released July 2018

Running Time: 5 hours

The Time War continues in the latest Eighth Doctor boxset from Big Finish, and it is another effort that showcases just how good Big Finish continues to be when the passion is there.  I get the sense that the Monthly Range doesn't have the same passion and excitement it once had from those working on it, while the bigger scope and chance to truly expand on a topic that comes with the boxsets still has a flame of passion ignited. Admittedly, I don't listen to the Monthly Range as much as I used to, so I could be wrong, but this just seems to be an impression I can't shake.  But this boxset keeps my hopes for the company continuing to release exciting stuff for some time alive.  

 

****THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS****

 

In The Lords of Terror, The Doctor takes Bliss to her homeworld, but they find it has already been ravaged by the time war. Instead of the home, Bliss remembers, her city is now encased in a dome, and it seems to be a dystopian nightmare. While the front story is that the Daleks attacked and they have protected themselves and are building a retaliation rocket in order to wipe out the Daleks, the Doctor soon discovers that it is even more nefarious. I rather loved what this story does with the Time War arc.  It seems that the Time Lords are actually behind this plan, and they haven’t created one dome and one rocket, they have turned the entire planet into a missile production plant, with every city put into a dome and forced into slavery to create a rocket...all in the name of winning the war. 

The second episode (Planet of the Ogrons) has the Doctor and Bliss recruited by the the Twelve (a regenerated and more stable version of the Eleven), and an Ogron who believes himself to be the Doctor. They head to the Ogron homeworld, where a mad genius Dalek with hybrid DNA is performing crazy genetic experiments. While I certainly enjoyed this episode, it felt slightly less engaging after the killer of an opening episode. That said, it does still have a lot of fun to offer. 

For the third story, In the Garden of Death, we have the very familiar trope of the Doctor and friends locked up in jail with missing memories.  I feel like the Eighth Doctor has been in this predicament before.  Despite the well-worn territory, it isn't half bad. I like the places it takes the Twelve, and the idea that while in the prison camp no one can remember their captors, and only when taken for interrogation do they recall the Daleks.  But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that though I only just listened to the story, much of it has already faded from my brain. It is certainly an enjoyable listen, it just doesn't leave much of an impact.  

Jonah closes out the set, and it is a tense submarine thriller in which the Doctor is Captaining a sub in a body of water in which no time travel can take place...and beneath the waters a mythological creature that can see every possible outcome of the future, and that is a beast that neither the Daleks nor the Time Lords should get their hands on.  I rather liked this story and felt it was a great closer to the set, and it is about as strong as the opening story, at least more so than the two stories that bridge them.  

While I can't say that the second and third stories are perfect, they are still rather engaging and fun, and with opening and closing stories that really are top notch, it is rather easy to recommend this set.  I don't even want to come down to hard on the two lesser stories, because I still think they work in the long run. Even so, no matter what the first and fourth episodes are really great episodes of Doctor Who, and McGann is giving his usual quality performance throughout the set.  Julia McKenzie should also get special notice for her turn as the Twelve, doing a great job running with what Mark Bonnar began as The Eleven. 

I have a soft spot for anything McGann or the Eighth Doctor, but I also think this set is worth the continued exploration of the Time War (and the weird ramifications of such a strange type of war), and Big Finish always put their all into these box sets, even the weaker stories have something to offer. Recommended.